In Marty’s really outstanding sermon today, he shared how Jesus’ words to the women at the well and Jesus’ later handling of the women who was to be stoned are really models for us, in our interactions with others.
Some combinations of the right amount of caffeinne, Marty’s excellent preaching, and the overall state of my brain, lead me to a few realizations. Today I’m just going to ponder one.
When Jesus confronts the women at the well (Henceforth, to be abbreviated WATW) she does an interesting thing.
She flatters Jesus, then brings up a big theological debate.
And I found myself wondering:
How often do I do this? I mean, the obvious, amateur’s defense, when we’re confronted, is to attack the person doing the confronting. Any five year can do that.
But it takes a real master of denial (like myself) to take the more refined approach exemplified by WATW. To Jesus, she said, “I can see that you’re a prophet.”
While I’ve never said that to anyone, when people have confronted me with my junk, I have sometimes thanked them and praised them. Profusely. I’ll remark on how hard it must have been to share what they did with me. Or how brave they were. Or how much I value their friendship.
On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with thanking people, or praising them. Yet the thing I realized this morning is that shifting the focus in this way is a pretty effective way of continuing on the same road I was on before.
Most of what we do, we do because it feels easy. Comfortable. Safe. It’s amazing the lengths we go to in order to stay on the roads that some stupid part of us wants to be on… Even if we know, in our hearts, that the road is leading us to destruction and despair.
When I praise someone who confronts me, one of the things I’m doing is pimping on quite a different weakness in others. (And myself!) We all love to be praised. We all love to hear what great friends we are. We all love to focus on how powerful our relationships are.
WATW is even better than this, though.
Perhaps she recognized something in this Jesus who stood before her. Perhaps she saw that flattery alone wasn’t going to do it.
Because what she does next is bring up a rather unrelated theological debate. And there are so many ways that this is a really interesting tactic.
In some way, she’s changed the subject even further away from where she’s uncomfortable.
But at the same time, she’s first puffed up Jesus and then given him an oppurtunity to show off. It wouldn’t have been that different if Jesus confronted her, and then she first squeezed his biceps, and said “My, you’re so strong” (instead of calling him a prophet) and then said “by the way, could you help me move this dresser.” (instead of asking him where they should worship) On this level, the hope is that by the time the dresser is moved, he’s forgotten the whole confrontation.
But at the same time, there’s this test going on. The test consists of two questions. Question #1) Is there any real truth at all? Religion is confounded by all these confusing debates. If we can’t even work out where we’re supposed to worship, how can we hold ourselves to expectations like we should only sleep with the person we’re married to? Question 2: Jesus, can you answer these confusing questions? If you can’t tell me where to worship, how are you going to tell me who to sleep with?
And there’s this whole trap set up around that question, too. Because if Jesus says, “My people are right.” Then WATW could easily dismiss him as just another prejudiced Israeli. If Jesus says “Your people are right.” She could run with the idea that truth is relative and we don’t need to put that much stock in scripture.
Jesus response– as Marty said– models for us what we should do and how we should do it. He cuts to the heart of the matter, but doesn’t cut hearts. He sees the smoke screens and the attempts at flattery and distraction and doesn’t give them his energy or attention. He emphasizes that worship only happens in a context of truthfullness. He honors WATW enough to let her draw the implication– that she is not living in truth.
Scripture goes on to tell how she witnessed to the truth of Jesus and who he is. I wonder how often our methods are this effective.